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The government’s Domestic Abuse Bill doesn’t go far enough

The Bill is an ambitious first step, but we need a holistic approach to really tackle domestic abuse.

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We talk to survivors of domestic abuse every day. They reach out to us online, help to design our projects, and sit among us in the office. The people affected by domestic abuse are our colleagues, our friends, our families and neighbours.

What always strikes me when speaking with anyone who has experienced domestic abuse is their desire for change. Rather than merely patching up its effects, survivors want to stop abuse before it starts. They believe that understanding the dynamics and misuses of power at the heart of domestic abuse is key to preventing people from becoming future victims.

The government today announced a draft Domestic Abuse Bill to tackle an epidemic that sees two women murdered every week in England and Wales, and a further two million people affected by domestic abuse across the UK. These are shocking figures. If that wasn’t enough, domestic abuse costs the British economy £66bn annually – more than the combined costs of obesity, alcohol, drug and cigarette use. The harrowing reality is that thousands of people abuse those they claim to love, causing staggering damage to individuals and communities across the UK.

We’re delighted that the government’s domestic abuse bill will shift responsibility onto the perpetrators rather than the victims of domestic abuse. Survivors have told us they wish to see tougher sentencing and stiffer repercussions where court orders are not upheld. But they also want to see community programmes aimed at rehabilitating and changing perpetrators’ behaviours.

The government’s Bill will ban perpetrators from cross-examining victims in family courts, and encourage greater use of specialist domestic abuse courts. But we would like to see this go further. Ending an abuser’s right to unsupervised child contact once they have been charged would help protect children, who often become the unseen victims of domestic abuse.  

The Bill seeks to make a complex set of laws more coherent. Currently, there are 1.1 million cases of domestic abuse recorded by police each year but only 100,000 convictions. We need the police and the courts to be more confident about how to use existing laws effectively, rather than giving short sentences for charges like criminal damage where an underlying domestic situation is far more serious.

To truly address domestic abuse, we need a holistic approach that spans government departments and recognises the impact of domestic abuse in every area of public life. The NHS is a fulcrum in domestic abuse cases; people are more likely to seek help from a doctor about an abuse-related health problem than they are from the police. Employing domestic abuse specialists in A&Es, and giving GPs the tools to refer suspected victims for the right support, would save lives and reduce the cost of domestic abuse for the NHS – currently an estimated £1.73 billion.

This Bill is an ambitious first step, made possible by survivors of domestic abuse speaking out about these issues. Hundreds of survivors have shared their experiences with us. We owe it to them now to take this bill even further and end domestic abuse for everyone, for good.

Suzanne Jacob is chief executive of domestic abuse charity SafeLives.

Why a planetary health diet probably won’t save the world

New dietary advice follows an old formula: place the onus for climate change on individuals’ behaviour.

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That we seem to be approaching something of an environmental collapse probably isn’t a surprise to anyone at this stage in the game, but still, attempts to rectify this feel incremental. Micro-charges for using plastic bags; a Cafe Nero discount if you use a KeepCup; those little compost bins you keep on top of your kitchen counter. Manageable but, if we’re being honest, negligible.

However, with the newly devised “planetary health diet”, scientists suggest we can become the masters of our own destiny, and save the world, all at the same time.

The diet is laid out in a report entitled “Food in the Anthropocene”. It was commissioned by medical journal the Lancet and the EAT forum, which describes itself as a “global, non-profit start-up dedicated to transforming our global food system through sound science, impatient disruption and novel partnerships”.

Rather than a diet in the “no carbs before six, and fruit is a perfectly acceptable dessert” sense of the word, this is more a complete analysis and overhaul of how the world should be eating. The report argues that one half of each plate should be “half a plate of vegetable and fruits,” while the other should be “primarily whole grains, plant protein sources, unsaturated plant oils, and (optionally) modest amounts of animal sources of protein”.

In short, it suggests we should eat less red meat and sugar, more fruit and vegetables, and much, much more nuts, seeds and pulses. The summary of the report includes a series of 12 photographs of example meals. Eight have three to four different elements; the other four are a soba noodle salad, rice salad, pasta salad, and vegetable broth.

Jamie’s 15-minute meals this ain’t, and 30-minute meals is probably pushing it too. In fact, there are few “traditional British” dishes that would fit the recommendations: you could probably make a case for the Ploughman’s Lunch (brown bread, vegetables, fruit, some cheese, a small amount of meat), but elsewhere our culinary history is far too tied to meat-and-two-veg.

North America is the other continent whose meat intake would need to be reduced considerably, although a diet based on foods indigenous to North America (nuts, fruits, beans, wild game) might be a good place to start. The proposed diet also has some similarities to the traditional Mediterranean one, and the Japanese Okinawa diet, so it’s not entirely been plucked from thin air: there is some sort of a cultural precedent to it.

What’s strange, then, is that the report doesn’t really acknowledge food as a cultural thing. It’s all well and good telling the world to change its diet – and to be honest, the top-line of what’s being said is really just “eat less meat” – but still, you’re attempting to unravel years and years of recipes, stories, and histories that food embodies. The report is very keen to stress how it’s not a restrictive diet, that there are thousands of combinations of meals you could make; but “eat 50 per cent less meat” is the real headline.

The rise of “cultured meat” – meat grown in a lab – goes some way to addressing this need to eat less meat while allowing folks to basically carry on as normal, and a study carried out way back in 2011 by the universities of Amsterdam and Oxford estimated that cultured meat could be produced with 96 per cent lower greenhouse gas emissions, 45 per cent less energy, 99 per cent lower land use, and 96 per cent lower water use than farmed meat; so it’s perhaps surprising that it’s not mentioned in the report.

There has also been a lot of research on the environmental benefits of eating insects, including but not limited to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, better feed conversion efficiency, and water savings. And if you’re now thinking “ugh, insects, gross” I would suggest you consider what difference there is between eating insects and, say, eating molluscs, like shellfish and snails.

That these things aren’t mentioned seems to point to the dual messaging: its focus seems to be half on minimising environmental damage, half on improving public health. Commenting on the report, Tamara Lucas and Richard Horton of The Lancet ask the question, “How is it that we’ve evolved to eat so unhealthily, both for our bodies and for the planet?” before noting that “unhealthy diets account for up to 11 million avoidable premature deaths per year”. In the report itself, the first key message reads “more than 820 million people have insufficient food and many more consume an unhealthy diet that contributes to premature death and morbidity.” The tone is severe – but this is a different issue to environmental collapse.

And it’s one that’s worth scrutiny. The report makes a problematic blanket claim that red meat is “unhealthy” – yet the British Heart Foundation states that red meat is a good source of protein and iron, and points out that the main “unhealthy” thing about red meat is how much saturated fat it could contain.

In addition, Dr Zoe Harcombe – a researcher in the field of public health, albeit one who has her own diet book and so may have a vested interest in the planetary health diet not being adopted – has broken down the report’s recommendations, and concluded that it would be nutritionally deficient, providing only 55 per cent of our required calcium, 22 per cent of our required sodium, and 88 per cent of our required iron, most of which is in a form that’s more difficult for our bodies to absorb.

It seems churlish to keep placing the onus for climate change onto individual’s behaviour, when we know that 100 companies are responsible for 71 per cent of global emissions. Nobody is going to argue with the fact that the meat industry is damaging the environment, and that eating less meat as a society is beneficial; but it’s impossible to discuss this whilst divorcing it from the contexts that drive people to eating meat as a staple of their diets. The report gives no consideration to the question of what level of income would be required to adopt this diet comfortably; it doesn’t even consider other things, like what your skill level is like in the kitchen, whether you have dietary conditions (the incidence of nut allergies is increasing), whether you’re recovering from an eating disorder, or what your own personal relationship with food is.

There’s nothing wrong with asking people to change their diets – eat less of something, more of something else, whatever. But if we continue doing it in this didactic, apolitical way, nothing will ever stick.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal demands the courage of the Roosevelt era


To transform the economy, Democrats must first confront how money works. 

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The genius of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal is that it provides a comprehensive plan to transform the US economy and tackle climate change. If implemented, the plan could transform economies around the world and ensure a liveable planet in the future.

But – and it’s a big but – the Green New Deal will require financing on a scale comparable to national warfare. We know this can be achieved. In 1933, President Franklin D Roosevelt found the money to finance his New Deal and fight a war against unemployment and poverty. His administration did so by overturning neoliberal economics and implementing policies based on Keynesian monetary theory and policies.

Key to the New Deal’s success was the Roosevelt administration’s clear understanding of the nature of money, and how the publicly backed monetary system works.

Public hostility, private addiction

Europe’s aversion to public debt is embedded in the German psyche. The Germans have the same word for debt – schuld – as they do for “guilt”  Yet while fears about public debt occupy the minds of economists and journalists, it’s a different story for the finance sector. For bankers, the public debts of Britain, Europe and the US are gifts that keep on giving. They can’t get enough of them. Demand for UK bonds currently exceeds supply, with investors so keen to get hold of government bonds that they are willing to pay negative rates for them. 

This is because the sovereign bonds of advanced economies like Britain, Japan and the US offer the safest collateral in the world. And as anyone that has ever had to raise a mortgage from a bank knows, collateral is key to raising finance. Once investors and big financial institutions like BlackRock acquire government bonds, they use this collateral in shadow banking, and to leverage additional borrowing as well as yield income (interest or “rent”).                                                                                     

The safety and value of this collateral is almost entirely due to publicly financed tax collection systems backed by millions of law-abiding taxpayers. Put simply, taxpayers are the collateral that guarantee the safety and value of government bonds.

In the run-up to the crisis, financial speculators were overexposed to insecure private collateral, including assets like sub-prime property. Debt leveraged against the falling value of these sub-prime assets would never be repaid.  The collapse in the value of private collateral was ultimately the cause of the 2008 financial crisis.

To counteract the crisis, central bankers expanded their balance sheets. In exchange for assets (government or corporate bonds), they gifted the private financial system extraordinary levels of new credit in attempts to reverse the contraction of the money supply.

Central bankers only exercise the power to generate new credit because of the public collateral – citizens’ tax revenues – that back the central bank and the currency they create. This collateral is not a fixed, physical asset. It is made up of citizens’ regular tax revenues. The strength of a nation’s currency and its central bank is dependent on the number of citizens paying into its tax-collection system. In turn, this conditions the strength of a nation’s currency. The stronger the nation’s currency, the more valuable its bonds as collateral, and the more power central bankers possess to create new credit. 

We can better understand this if we compare the taxpayer collateral that backs up the US Federal Reserve with that of Malawi. The central bank of Malawi, like the Federal Reserve, issues a currency. But Malawi has far fewer taxpayers than the US. Thanks largely to IMF policies and colonial history, the country also lacks an independent central bank, an effective criminal justice system for upholding contracts, and a sound tax-collection system. Consequently, Malawi’s currency – the Kwacha – has little value compared to the dollar. The weakness of its public institutions means that Malawi has virtually no money. Instead the country is reliant on other people’s money.

The double standards of haute finance

It didn’t take long after the 2008 crisis before the ideology of austerity reared its ugly head. Encouraged by Harvard and Chicago economists, politicians like George Osborne in the UK and Paul Ryan in the US curtailed the growth of public borrowing and government spending at a time of private economic failure.

Austerity contracted both public and private economic activity and income, and inflicted losses, pain and suffering on millions of citizens in the US and Europe. It led to popular resistance and political insurgencies – the costs of which are now proving severe. 

The deep irony of capitalism’s obsession with both austerity and the need to shrink the state is that this approach has also shrunken the availability of collateral for the private finance sector. Players in the shadow banking system of free-wheeling financial markets are heavily dependent on the public debt of government bonds for collateral. There is no private collateral – property, works of art, yachts, race horses, jewellery – considered as safe as sovereign debt. By rendering public debt scarce, politicians not only harm the interests of their citizens, but also the interests of Wall Street and the City of London 

Given that safe public assets are fundamental to the health and stability of the globalised private financial system, why would right-wing politicians contract their supply? The answer is ideology: politicians on the right are opposed to the collective role of the state, and think financial markets should be detached from regulatory democracy.

****

Until we fully understand how the monetary system functions, a wealthy elite will continue to extract rent from publicly produced collateral. Economic inequality will continue to widen across the world, while public anger and discontent deepen.

If enough people understood the latent power that taxpayers have over the private finance sector, we could demand that government bonds were made available to investors and speculators only if certain conditions were met. These could include the payment of taxes and the management of cross-border capital flows.

Roosevelt had the understanding, political will and ballast to confront the interests of Wall Street. Any international movement for a Green New Deal will have to summon the same courage. Campaigners in countries across the world will have to discover, and then deploy, their latent power to subordinate global finance to the interests of society and the environment.

Only then will we discover that another world really is possible.  

Judith Butler: the backlash against “gender ideology” must stop

Gender theory is neither destructive nor indoctrinating: it simply seeks a form of political freedom.

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In the last few years, protests in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere have objected to an “ideology of gender”. Elections in France, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Brazil have pivoted on a candidate’s account of gender roles. In the US, both Catholics and evangelicals have opposed a host of political positions linked elsewhere with “gender theory” or “gender ideology”: the rights of trans people in the military, the rights to abortion, lesbian, gay and trans rights, gay marriage, feminism, and other movements in favor of gender equality and sexual freedom.

Arguably, this backlash against “gender ideology” took shape in 2004 when the Pontifical Council on the Family wrote a letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church signaling the potential of “gender” to destroy feminine values important to the Church; to foster conflict between the sexes; and to contest the natural, hierarchical distinction between male and female upon which family values and social life are based.

In 2016, Pope Francis escalated the rhetoric: “We are experiencing a moment of the annihilation of man as the image of God.” The Pope included within this defacement “[the ideology of] ‘gender’” and he exclaimed: “Today children – children! – are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex!” Finally, Francis made clear what was theologically at stake: “God created man and woman; God created the world in a certain way… and we are doing the exact opposite.”

The Pope’s point is that gender freedom – the freedom to be, or become, a gender; the idea that gendered life can be an expression of personal or social freedom – falsifies reality, since we are, in his view, neither free to choose the sex with which we are born nor to affirm sexual orientations that depart from those divinely ordained. In fact, the right of people to determine their gender or sexual orientation is seen by anti-gender religious critics as an attempt to usurp God’s power of creation, and defy the divinely imposed limits on human agency. And for the Pope, gender equality and sexual freedom are not only excessive, but destructive – even “diabolical”.

Gender equality is taken as a “diabolical ideology” by these critics precisely because they see gender diversity as a historically contingent “social construction” that is imposed on the divinely mandated natural distinction between the sexes. And while it is true that gender theorists generally reject the idea that gender is determined by the sex assigned at birth, the account of social construction as a willful destruction of a God-given reality misconstrues the field of gender studies and the notion of social construction in inflammatory and consequential ways.

But if one considers gender theory carefully, it is neither destructive nor indoctrinating. In fact, it simply seeks a form of political freedom to live in a more equitable and livable world.

In The Second Sex (1949), the existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir famously wrote: “One is not born a woman but becomes one.” This claim created space for the idea that sex is not the same as gender. And in the simplest formulation of this notion, sex is seen as a biological given, gender the cultural interpretation of sex. One may be born as female in the biological sense, but then one has to navigate a series of social norms and figure out how to live as a woman – or another gender – in one’s cultural situation.

Crucially for Beauvoir, “sex” is from the very start part of one’s historical situation. “Sex” is not denied, but its meaning is disputed: nothing about being assigned female at birth determines what kind of life a woman will lead and what the meaning of being a woman might be. Indeed, many trans people are assigned one sex at birth, only to claim another one in the course of their lives. And if we build on the logic of Beauvoir’s “existentialist” account of social construction, then one may be born a female, but become a man.

A stronger “institutional” variation of social construction emerged in the 1990s, and it focused on the fact that sex itself is assigned. This means that medical, familial, and legal authorities play a crucial role in deciding what sex an infant will be. Here “sex” is no longer taken a biological given, although it is partly determined within a framework of biology. But which framework is relevant to that determination?

Take the case of “intersexed” infants who are born with mixed sexual characteristics. Some medical professionals seek recourse to hormones to define their sex, whereas others take chromosomes to be the deciding factor. How that determination is made is consequential: intersexed people have become increasingly critical of the fact that medical authorities have often mis-categorised them and subjected them to cruel forms of “correction”.

Taken together, the existentialist and institutional interpretations of “social construction” show that gender and sex are determined by a complex and interacting set of processes: historical, social, and biological. And in my view, the institutional forms of power and knowledge we are born into precede, form, and orchestrate whatever existential choices we come to make.

We are assigned a sex, treated in various ways that communicate expectations for living as one gender or another, and we are formed within institutions that reproduce our lives through gender norms. So, we are always “constructed” in ways that we do not choose. And yet we all seek to craft a life in a social world where conventions are changing, and where we struggle to find ourselves within existing and evolving conventions. This suggests that sex and gender are “constructed” in a way that is neither fully determined nor fully chosen but rather caught up in the recurrent tension between determinism and freedom.

So is gender a field of study that is destructive, diabolical, or indoctrinating?  Gender theorists who call for gender equality and sexual freedom are not committed to a hyper-voluntarist view of “social construction” modelled on divine power. Neither do they seek through gender education to impose their views on others. If anything, the idea of gender opens toward a form of political freedom that would allow people to live with their “given” or “chosen” gender without discrimination and fear.

Denying these political freedoms, as the Pope and many Evangelicals are wont to do, leads to dire consequences: those who wish to abort would be prevented from exercising that freedom; gay and lesbian people who would like to marry would be denied the option of realising that desire; and those who wish to take on a gender distinct from the sex assigned to them at birth would be prohibited from doing so.

What is more, schools that seek to teach gender diversity would be constrained, and young people would be denied knowledge about the actual spectrum of gendered lives. Such pedagogy in gender diversity is understood by its critics as a dogmatic exercise that prescribes how students should think or live. In fact, these critics willfully misconstrue a class in sex education that, say, introduces masturbation or homosexuality as dimensions of sexual life, as a manual that literally instructs students to masturbate or to become homosexuals. However, the opposite is true. Teaching gender equality and sexual diversity calls into question the repressive dogma that has cast so many gender and sexual lives into the shadows, without recognition and deprived of any sense of futurity.

Ultimately, the struggle for gender equality and sexual freedom seeks to alleviate suffering and to recognise the diverse embodied and cultural lives that we live. Teaching gender is not indoctrination: it does not tell a person how to live; it opens up the possibility for young people to find their own way in a world that often confronts them with narrow and cruel social norms. To affirm gender diversity is therefore not destructive: it affirms human complexity and creates a space for people to find their own way within this complexity.

The world of gender diversity and sexual complexity is not going away. It will only demand greater recognition for all those who seek to live out their gender or sexuality without stigma or the threat of violence. Those who fall outside the norm deserve to live in this world without fear, to love and to exist, and to seek to create a world more equitable and free of violence.

Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Gender Trouble and Undoing Gender.

This article is part of the Agora series, a collaboration between the New Statesman and Aaron James Wendland. Aaron is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Higher School of Economics and the co-editor of Wittgenstein and Heidegger and Heidegger on Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @ajwendland.

EU citizens may be the next Windrush generation due to the UK’s post-Brexit settled status scheme

Over three million citizens are being forced to apply for rights that they thought they already had.

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Almost two years ago, 3.6 million EU citizens living in the UK got firmly strapped into a rollercoaster ride that is still running – and the new settlement scheme that is currently being trialled will not provide a soft landing.

From 29 March 2019, the UK’s EU citizens will be forced to apply just to stay in their homes. Friends, neighbours, colleagues, carers will cease to be the same as everyone else, and will have a separate digital ID, without which they will not be able to live, rent, work and access healthcare after Brexit.

Along the way, they will be told they will pay £65, sign away their data – which the Home Office can share with undisclosed third parties – submit additional evidence if their digital records aren’t seamless, told that they will not have to pay £65 after all, undergo a systematic criminality check and hope they won’t fall into the Home Office’s 10 per cent error rate. Those who are not proud owners of an Android phone will have to borrow or buy one to even be able to start this process. There is no option for a paper application and not much assistance for the estimated 30 per cent of people who will struggle with the system.

EU citizens are not simply registering for rights: they are applying for them, and can be turned down. The message this sends is that the contributions they have made over the last decades are meaningless. They are having to prove their worth, just to get something they already lawfully had.

It could all have been so easy. The UK has never registered its resident EU citizens, and we all understand that there needs to be a way to distinguish between us and those arriving after Brexit. A simple registration with proof of identity and address, at local council level, would not have caused the anxiety and upset I now see among my European friends. Their trust in the current UK government has been eroded over two long years, from when Vote Leave wrongly assured them their status would be automatic, through to witnessing how behind-the-scenes tweaks to immigration rules led to the wrongful deportation of UK citizens in the Windrush scandal. These same immigration rules will apply to 3.6 million extra citizens, their rights set out in bits of secondary legislation that can be changed without scrutiny. Just such a change has already removed vital protections from the Windrush generation.

Of course, for most people the streamlined settled status system will be easy – if we ignore, for the moment, that the rights it will give us access to aren’t protected in the long term. My concern, however, is for anyone who does not fit the stereotype of working EU citizens with perfect digital tax records that the system is built around. Or those who inevitably don’t find out in time what they have to do, don’t have a valid passport, miss the deadline: they will become the next Windrush generation in years to come and on an unprecedented scale.

The scheme, once famously described by Amber Rudd as “as easy as getting an LK Bennett loyalty card”. has huge risks, even for those well-documented people in full-time employment. It is one of the largest tasks that the Home Office has ever had to undertake; and even if the current processing error rate stays at 10 per cent this still means 360,000 people could be refused the new status, through no fault of their own. HMRC records are being cross-linked to Home Office records and used to verify the residency of EU citizens; and the pilots of the scheme have already thrown up cases where official records do no match each other. Stay-at-home parents and children in care will be among those who may find it difficult to provide evidence of their residency in the UK.

The consequences of not applying are severe, yet so far take-up of the settled status trials has been low. Should people fail to apply or be refused, they will have no immigration status when the UK leaves the EU. This could lead to EU citizens becoming destitute, unemployed, at risk of exploitation, and unable to access basic services such as the NHS.

The issue here is not about the technical process or the Home Office’s much-declared good intention. This is about reassuring 3.6 million people that they share the same values, the same legal protection and the same positive outlook as their British friends. Instead of making them feel that they have to re-apply, re-qualify for the lives they’ve lived for decades, the UK government has a duty of care to show them that it has their interests at heart too.

the3million, In Limbo and More United are currently have been campaigning to improve settled status – you can support them here.

Why we need Clueless’s Cher Horowitz now more than ever

“May I please remind you, it does not say RSVP on the Statue of Liberty.”

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When the organisers of the Cinematologists film podcast asked me to choose a comedy to introduce at The Poly cinema in Falmouth as part of the BFI’s Comedy Genius season, my response was instantaneous. The film left my mouth before I knew what I was saying: “Clueless.”

Had I mulled it over for a few minutes, there would have been numerous contenders: something by Preston Sturges, Ernst Lubitsch, Elaine May or Aki Kaurismäki; any of Paul Feig’s films with Melissa McCarthy; a masterpiece like Playtime, Young Frakenstein or The Awful Truth. Or perhaps a left-field choice, like the screwball comedy Straight Talk, with Dolly Parton and James Woods – a romantic pairing that makes chalk and cheese seem comparatively indistinct.

But sometimes it’s best to go with your gut. And there are plenty of reasons why Clueless deserves to be seen again in the context of the Comedy Genius season. Amy Heckerling’s sparky high-school romp, a loose and updated adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, is hardly an obscure or under-appreciated movie. It has spawned a TV series, a run of young adult novels and a stage musical. A remake is in the works, scripted by Marquita Robinson of the Netflix series GLOW and produced by Tracy Oliver, one of the writers of Girls Trip. There is even an exhaustive podcast dedicated to the film, As If, which devotes each of its 20-minute episodes (there are 97 in total) to examining a single minute of the movie. Its presenters ponder the eccentricities of British and American slang and discuss how men act with their girlfriends when their mates aren’t around.

Since its release in 1995, Clueless has never been out of circulation – it can be rented, bought, streamed and downloaded. But we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing the film on the small screen, as part of an unchanging menu of viewing choices, that we have stopped seeing Clueless properly. With the exception of an occasional quote-along event at the Prince Charles Cinema in London, Clueless rarely appears at cinemas – precisely because it’s so readily available at home.

Yet the larger format is the only way to properly appreciate Bill Pope’s zinging cinematography, savour Steven J. Jordan’s production design, and recognise Mona May’s costume designs – the weirdest of which are like fireworks displays in fabric form. The unadulterated joy that Heckerling feels for her characters suffuses every aspect of the picture.  A typical viewing for me usually ends with a depressurising facial massage to relieve the inevitable ache from 97 minutes of solid grinning.

The deceptive frivolity of Clueless makes it easy to overlook. Comedy films are often the losers at awards ceremonies. Alicia Silverstone wasn’t considered for any major prizes, despite her expertly sustained performance as Cher Horowitz, the apparent ditz who turns out, much like the film, to be smarter than she appears. While Silverstone won two MTV Movie Awards in 1996, one for Best Female Performance and the other for the questionable category of Most Desirable Female, she wasn’t nominated for Best Actress Oscar.

Had she been in the running, I would have loved to see the reactions of Oscar nominees such as Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon as Silverstone trooped  up the steps to accept the statuette, taking a piece of gum from her mouth, Cher-style, and keeping it poised on her fingertip until finishing her acceptance speech.

And few could have predicted that Silverstone’s character would turn out to be an inspiring opposition to the cruelty of the current US administration. Her stirring speech in favour of immigration – “May I please remind you, it does not say RSVP on the Statue of Liberty” – demonstrates why we need Cher now more, now than ever.

Clueless is screening at 7.30pm on 23 January at The Poly Cinema, Falmouth. Tickets are available here.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.

Have 150,000 people really left the Labour Party over Brexit?

If anyone were in a position to know, then the spur would have to have been the result of an event half a year ago, rather than the party’s handling of Brexit now.

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Have 150,000 Labour members left over Brexit? That’s the arresting statistic that is doing the rounds at the moment, and has been reported by several newspapers. The Labour Party has described the stories as “entirely untrue” and the figures as “fabricated”.

The important thing to remember about any story about party members leaving is that no one is in a position to provide accurate information – including whichever political party is being discussed. Most party activists leave in the same way that one ends a gym membership or a Netflix subscription – by cancelling it with their bank and letting the relevant organisation find out in the fullness of time. A handful will publicly announce it, whether by emailing the central party, their local association or constituency party; but most will just quietly exit.

It is not like when people join a political party, when the party finds out about it pretty quickly and where most parties prompt new members to tell them why they have joined.

We do know from Labour’s recent elections to the ruling National Executive Committee that party membership has fallen from its 2016 peak to a little over half a million. Anecdotally, there is clearly some discontent within the Labour Party grassroots over Brexit, and it does seem to have increased in recent weeks.

But we should treat any story putting specific figures on that discontent with scepticism. As boring an answer as it is, we won’t know what the state and size of the Labour Party membership is until the party next has an internal election.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Nazir Afzal’s Diary: Why government cuts to further education are bad news for the whole country

We must skill and reskill to ensure that we have the workforce necessary to support our NHS, care for our aging population, and build much-needed new houses.

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I spent the beginning of the week with the Jan Trust, a charity for which I am a patron. Its work in recognising the important role of women in protecting young people from radicalisation and extremism began 30 years ago in 1989, and progress has been undeniable. In 2010, the charity’s Web Guardians programme was introduced, with the aim of educating mothers to safeguard their children from the dangers that lurk online. Having survived the 7/7 London bombings, the charity’s CEO, Sajda Mughal OBE, launched the scheme to target a section of the population that may otherwise have been unaware of the dangers to prevent similar attacks happening.

In June 2018, funding for the Web Guardians’ work with Prevent, part of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, was unceremoniously withdrawn, leaving the charity in a dire situation, having recruited staff and promised women in communities across the UK that the programme would be delivered to them. Since then, women have reached out to Jan Trust for help, advice and support. It’s a credit to the organisation that in September 2018 Google stepped in with some funding for another of their innovations.

I hope that the Prevent department of the Home Office realises the mistake it has made cutting funding for Web Guardians. If it’s good enough for Google, then why not for government?

By the way, there needs to be an independent review of how Prevent is working!

The danger of softly softly

The recent hi-vis abuse of MPs and journalists outside parliament fronted by mini-Tommy, James Goddard, has led to some asking, when does protest become criminal? More than a decade ago, I charged some of the so-called Danish Cartoon protestors with soliciting murder when they called for beheadings. We never see such signage at protests anymore. The deterrent effect of prosecution cannot be underestimated. Like many I am astounded at how long it took for police action – softly softly only encourages escalation of the abuse, and Goddard and his ilk should have been stopped earlier.

What adult learning really means

I was recently honoured to be appointed chair of Hopwood Hall Further Education College in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. It’s a brilliant place for developing the skills and potential that we need in the 21st century. I am currently overseeing the selection of our new principal after our current one, Derek O’Toole, decided to step down after a successful 11 years.

Some 2.2 million people in England attend their local college each year to learn, to train, and to reskill. That’s almost twice as many people as attend state-funded schools. Two-thirds of young people study their A levels in a college, and 1.4 million adults attend one. The average college works with more than 600 businesses to ensure that there is a local workforce with the necessary skills. Every day, in a college near you, there will be teachers supporting students to pass their GCSEs after they previously failed to get the grades, to gain the skills needed to succeed in the workplace, and even provide the confidence that comes with learning English for the first time.

Why then have colleges been so ignored for so long? It’s no coincidence that the most overlooked part of the education eco-system is the worst funded. A recent report by the Insititute of Fiscal Studies showed that further education was the only part of the education system to be subject to continued cuts over the past decade.

This funding conundrum means that a student in a college in England can expect around 15 hours teaching and support whilst their European peers get almost double that. It’s not just our young people being shortchanged. A 45 per cent drop in the adult education budget over recent years means we are seeing over one million fewer adult learners in the system each year.

Let’s be clear, adult education isn’t about middle-class couples learning conversational French before a weekend of wine tasting. It’s about skilling and reskilling to make sure that we have the workforce necessary to support our NHS, care for our aging population, and build much-needed new houses. These cuts mean that each year, one million fewer people get the chance to progress and increase their earnings: there are one million chances lost to increase the productivity of the country.

We need politicians to recognise the impact colleges have, but this must stretch into proper, meaningful investment. We need our students to have the facilities that equip them for the future work place; we need teachers that are skilled in their industry, who are paid a fair wage, and we need students to have sufficient hours in the classroom to develop the technical skills required to drive our economy forward.

The safest place in the UK

One of my other roles is national adviser to the Welsh Government (an independent role I share with Yasmin Khan) on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. It takes a lot to impress me but Wales is determined to make the country the safest place in the UK and beyond. The various actions we have advised on are being implemented, not just talked about.

This week we launched our annual plan and our latest public awareness campaign, this one on coercive control, and the message is clear: abuse takes many forms and we need to stamp them all out. I am incredibly supportive of the NGOS working at the grassroots – I just wish the UK government was too. These are emergency services and should be funded as such – not left to charity and volunteers.

Better times for the land that lost its way

I am preparing to travel on a short working visit to Pakistan, the first time I have been there in 17 years, to assist a project modernising justice. It’s the land of my parents but somewhat lost its way, largely because of the security situation. However, there is good news: it feels safer, better led, more inclusive and forward thinking than it has been. It also has such beauty. You should visit!

The only promise Donald Trump ever kept: two years of “American carnage”

We’re exactly halfway through this presidential term. It’s been a long, dreadful, and chaotic era.

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Two years ago yesterday, on a grey day in Washington DC, Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the United States. In a grim inaugural address, he spoke of “American carnage”. It was meant to be about economic threats from abroad and from immigrants at home, but it was to prefigure a presidency marked by staggering cruelty and mind-boggling incompetence.

“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost,” Trump told the meagre crowd. “The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.”

But this was to start the administration off the way it would continue: in his first ever briefing, Trump’s first White House press secretary Sean Spicer was directed to lie about the size of the crowd.

In fact, Trump’s would turn out to be one of, if not the, most corrupt administrations there has ever been. Ryan Zinke, his secretary of the interior, has just resigned with no fewer than 17 ethics investigations into his conduct. The investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into potential Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has claimed the scalps of Trump’s national security adviser Mike Flynn, Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, and Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, and shows no sign of abating. So much for “drain the swamp.”

And Trump has continued to side with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies, leading some – including, it was recently revealed, the FBI – to start to wonder the previously unthinkable: whether the US president might be an agent of the Kremlin.

Then there’s been the rampant cruelty. For example: denying the right of transgender people to serve in the military in a tweet – without even asking the Pentagon. (The status of such people remains unclear; the Department of Defense still does not appear to have received a formal order implementing the tweet.) Or consider the summer of wresting children from their families and interring them in cages in extreme desert heat; a heartless, monstrous policy.

In July, the president, who during the campaign was famously overheard boasting on an old hot-mic recording about his habit of sexual assault (“grab ‘em by the pussy”), nominated a man credibly accused of sexual assault to the Supreme Court. The gruelling confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh were a dismal spectacle even for the Trump administration, as Kavanaugh defensively responded to the heart-breaking testimony of one of his accusers, Dr Christine Blasey Ford, with such rejoinders as, “I like beer.” The miserable spectacle of the hearings did at least lead to one good thing: this amazing skewering in the cold open of that week’s Saturday Night Live.

As 2018 drew to a close, it was time for the midterm elections. Here again, Trump covered himself with shame, using the US military for electioneering, sending troops to the border to defend against a “caravan” of unarmed migrants who were traveling to the US in order to apply (legally) for asylum. The stunt cost US taxpayers $210m, and could not prevent Trump from losing the election to a near-unprecedented degree as a blue wave swept Democrats to control of the House of Representatives.

All the while, he was also waging a war of words with the media, a verbal assault that led to real-world consequences for those who the president still regularly describes as “the enemy of the people” – an approach with echoes of Adolf Hitler’s “lugenpresse” (“lying press”). Especially horrifying was the moment when a Washington Post columnist, Jamal Kashoggi, was brutally murdered by a kill team sent by the Saudi Arabian crown prince – a move which the administration failed to condemn. Pipe-bombs were sent to CNN and other news outlets as well as liberal political figures.

Internationally, Trump has been a bull in a china shop. On trade, Trump has started imposing tariffs on goods from China, Canada, and other erstwhile trading partners, crippling some parts of the US economy and possibly permanently damaging American foreign relations. He also unilaterally decided to pull US troops from Syria and Afghanistan, leading to the immediate resignation of his former secretary of defense, General Jim Mattis, who had long been considered one of the few remaining grownups of the administration. And he continues to threaten to pull the US out of NATO.

Domestically, he has fared little better. Trump enters the third year of his administration with the government still deadlocked over a shutdown – a shutdown which he has decided to entirely make his own – and facing a freshly elected congress with wide subpoena power over him.

And as the various investigations into his impropriety – over the Trump Foundation, his charity that was shuttered by New York’s state attorney-general in December; over his transition team; over his inaugural committee, among many others – close in, Trump is getting more and more unstable, and more and more panicked. What the next two years might hold is anybody’s guess.

Nicky Woolf is the editor of New Statesman America. He has formerly written for the Guardian and the New Statesman. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

As May seeks to renegotiate her Brexit deal, her MPs fear concessions could split the Conservative Party

Back to the backstop.

NS

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Theresa May will unveil her Plan B for Brexit and, who’d have thought it, it looks an awful lot like Plan A: to seek concessions on the backstop in order to win back the support of pro-Brexit Conservatives and the DUP.

There are two problems here: the first is that there can be no agreement without some form of backstop. The function of the backstop is to act as an insurance policy, that, come what may, means the regulatory and customs alignment facilitating an invisible border between Northern Ireland and Ireland will endure.

Any negotiated Brexit that excludes a backstop could never be signed off by any Irish government of any hue, and any negotiated Brexit that excludes a backstop would undermine the central strategic priority of successive British governments towards Northern Ireland since 1985.

The second problem is that even if May could get concessions on the backstop, it wouldn’t in and of itself be enough to overcome the number of Conservative rebels whose objections to the agreement go well beyond the Irish border. There is no negotiated exit that can pass the House of Commons through Tory votes alone.

But the view from Downing Street and indeed much of the cabinet is that May cannot make the necessary concessions over the customs union, let alone the single market or holding another referendum, without splitting the Conservative Party. What some of the cabinet’s softer Brexiteers think, however, is that while May cannot impose a cross-party agreement herself, if one emerges from the House of Commons a deal can be reached without shattering the Conservative Party.

Are they right? What we’ll find out over the next week (the next set of votes are on 29 January) is whether that cross-party no deal majority can do anything more concrete than pass sternly worded motions saying that no deal is bad. We start the week with two major backbench initiatives – one from Yvette Cooper, one from Dominic Grieve – and there will likely be others.

Cooper is proposing a very narrow amendment to give voice to a simple bill that, in the event of not reaching an agreement by the end of February would mandate the government to seek an extension of Article 50. Grieve’s proposal would give parliament the ability to propose not just one bill but a series of indicative votes and other measures. It is more radical than what Cooper is proposing and therefore less likely to pass.

But even Cooper’s proposal might be too far for the House of Commons. Don’t forget that her much more limited proposal only managed a small majority, and one dependent on the abstention of Labour Leavers. This new proposal is asking MPs to actually proactively do something, which could be a bridge too far. The great hope among MPs of all parties who fear a no-deal Brexit is that parliament will come together to stop one from happening. It may be that what the next week shows is that parliament isn’t capable of agreeing where to go next on Brexit any more than the cabinet is. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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